The Manx Mountain Marathon 29th Sept

Nearing the top of the first climb
The Manx Mountain Marathon has been on my to do race list for about as long as the Lake District Mountain Trial.  So after finally getting around to doing the LDMT, I looked for another race and thought why not. The race appealed to me as it’s a nice line roughly  going from the North to the South West of the Isle Of Man. Starting in Ramsey and taking a line across the mountains to finish on the cliffs in Port Erin. It is 30 miles and 9,000 feet so it is a tough race. Helping me to commit to doing the race was the day I found a good rate for a foot passenger crossing on the local Heysham Ferry service combined with a 2 night Hotel stay. This was a deal set up with the race organisers, in a vain attempt to encourage more over from mainland UK. It was a small field this year but, a change of date from the April to late September may have, hopefully,  accounted for this, and next year more will make the sea crossing.
The crossing over on the Friday was a little rough and made me feel a touch queasy. I dreaded the return crossing  due to a forecast suggesting good weather if a little windy  for the race, followed by gales on my return day on Sunday. although I needn't have worried. I soon recovered after the rough crossing though and by the evening was o.k. Race day was a 5am start. I forgot to organise a breakfast, and as the Hotel didn’t start serving until 7.30 am  I had to improvise. Therefore my breakfast was a cup of Horlicks and a Cliff energy bar.  Never knew I liked Horlicks! Maybe this drink is eventually discovered with age?  The older you get the more likely you are to have tried it. I digress. anyway... a walk down the promenade followed by a lift from one of the organisers and a chat about the race and its lack of attendance whilst traversing over the mountain road, saw me at the start venue in Ramsey  just as it became light.
After a quick chat with Murphy (met on the FRA forum) we were off down the small Promenade and then the streets then heading in land to the first climb of North Barrule I started off at a steady push and kept this going all the way up the first climb. At the top it was obvious that this was going to be a tough race,  the heavy ground combined with a very strong head wind made forward progress really difficult at times. The ridge was long and connected a nice series of small summits. But now and again the wind even made it difficult to descend steep ground, my glasses nearly blew off my face at one point. The severe wind was still in preference to fog, as I could see the route and the stunning scenery. The lack of a recce opportunity meant that the big challenge of the route for me was navigation. At the start it was a case of follow the leader, but 2 hours into the race it was quite spread out, so it was more difficult to do this. But I was managing to keep, hopefully more initiated runners, in sight.
After about 3 hours of running a speedy Jackie Lee Overtook me and it was obvious she knew the way. I could fairly comfortably keep up with her so decided it would be a good strategy to do so. Whilst on a mildly steep descent across long grass I fell and hurt my shoulder and leg enough to slow me down. I then, on the next climb lost her and after she took some clever lines I reached the summit clip with no idea which way she had gone. This lead to me descending the wrong way, and without a map handy, I faffed about zig zagging across the steep hillside of Carraghan, I think I lost about 10 minutes messing about before finally getting back on track. It was then a quick run through the CP and on up a really awkward climb through the heather strewn hillside of Colden. I got this a bit wrong and ended up being corrected by a runner shouting as he ascended to me. I climbed with him so as not to panic at my errors, I decided it would calm me down, to then pick up the pace again after the ascent.
After a steady climb and a chat with my “guide” I pushed on buoyed by the confidence of seeing a lead train of 4 yellow vested Manx fell runners stretching out over at least a mile ahead. So I pushed on along the undulating ridge overtaking 1 or 2 as I trudged through the muddy trails. The drop down off the ridge was painful as it was a tight trod that weaved through very tall prickly Gorse bushes. After accruing a few leg cuts I followed Mark, who I had now caught up after my errors. We then missed the flagged area through a farm and had to hop a few fences. It was then a flat run along a trail for about 2 miles. I ran through the CP, as I did at most, and ascended start of the next ridge. This was the halfway point and the start of the 2nd leg for the relay runners. I was overtaken by a speedy runner before remembering that they were fresh second leg runners. I then decided to use their  pace to help keep me going strong.
I kept running strong all the way along this boggy ridge, yes they were all boggy, until the route started to feel more like a trail race twisting and turning on tracks then eventually a road section. Here I realised that I was closing in on Simon Halliday and caught him quite quickly. I ran with him chatting and enjoying the scenery as we crested the next hill top to reveal the welcome sight of the coastal cliffs. They looked beautiful in the afternoon sunshine. We ran together for a while before he took off to leave me chasing him up the last two cliff top climbs. We then swung around on off the last top to descend on a nice firm trail, at last, into the finish on a ledge just above Port Erin. The finishing banners were propped against a wall due to the strong onshore wind, so I didn’t even realised that I had finished. I saved a sprint finish but never got to use, never mind I didn’t feel like trying to out sprint Simon anyway, as it never felt like a serious full on race anyway.
I finished in 6 hours 20 minutes and in 12 place. I loved this race, and the whole weekend on the Isle of Man, and will definitely be going back next year.

The scenery and typical heavy ground conditions

Mark Murphy met on the FRA Forum
Me Just past Half-way

9th Sept The Lake District Mountain Trial

This was my first try at the Lake district mountain trial. It is different to any other race I have done as it is a totally undisclosed course  and it is in a time trial format. You set off at intervals then run about 750 meters before picking up a map. It is then a case of navigating your way around the 8 or so checkpoints across the lakes mountains. Th headquarters for the race, and thus the start point, are disclosed about a week prior to the start. This year it was Stair in the newlands valley.

So slightly daunted I stood on the start line ready to  dib and set off. I ran off fairly conservative 800m up the road, picked up the map then headed off for the first CP near High spy. I made reasonable lines and did not make any errors as we traversed from High spy to a point just above Honister pass. Then we made a strange traverse across to the flat boggy top of High Scawdel before having the first big decision to make. Which way to go to get to a point just below High Snab Bank . I decided on a traverse around Dale head then onto Hindscarth edge then drop over Hindscarth into the valley and along to the CP. Then it was an aggressively steep climb up and over the edge and on to skirt around Robinson on a severely off camber traverse. This seemed to go on forever before a climb then a flat crossing of Buttermere moss. It was energy sapping and my next choice after the CP above Buttermere moss proved just as sapping. If only I had taken the steeper but less taxing climb of Knott Rig. As  i descended from Buttermere moss I could see a few runners on the traverse around Knott rig into the Sail beck valley I decided to follow. At first it was a good track but this just petered out and became heavy going through tussocks and heather. Until finally reaching the track that leads to Sail pass, a familiar track to me as it is the Lakeland 100 route.  Even though going over Knot Rig would be a tough climb it was on better ground and required little decent on the far side, I wish I had gone that way as the valley seemed to sap my energy to a level that I didn’t quite recover from. On the tracked climb to Sail Pass I got chatting to a guy that had run the Lakeland 50. As we topped the pass to skirt around Sail, he carried straight on as if on the Lakeland 100 route, in my tired state I thought that he must have been doing the medium course and let him go. I had followed him for a few hundred yards whilst checking the map, to make sure i was right and he was wrong, and decided to cut down the steep grass to start the traverse. Unfortunately I was now too low and made it a tiring contour to the CP. I struggled on the out and back to the CP then trudged up to the CP on the small knoll AKA Stile End. I thought that the next CP was on top of Causey Pike, so I was glad to find on closer inspection of the map, it was actually about 400 feet below the summit. Cramp was starting to tighten my legs up as I descended then ascended to the next CP on the side  Causey Pike. I had to stop a few times to stretch the cramp out of my legs. Eventually after dibbing I made my way down the last descent. I was slightly rejuvenated, to know all the hard effort was done, so made good progress off Causey Pike. But my decision to put the map away bit me, as I missed the last CP just above the road. I descended to the road and had to run along it and was warned by marshals (thanks) to. re-ascend about 6o feet; which felt like 600 feet; up to the CP. then it really was all downhill to the finish. I was pleased to finish my first time trial style race.

I finished in the top half of the field, just, and it took me 4 hours 48 mins.  But I enjoyed it and will be back for another go. Hopefully next time I won't get the cramp which probably cost me about 20 minutes or more.

The Lakeland 100 July 27th - 29th

 This was to be my 2nd attempt at the Lakeland 100 trail race. In the race 2 years ago I had very sore feet for half of the race, and consequently never really felt that I ran the 2nd half that well. So after some good training runs I felt fit enough to be able to better that time. More of the adventure is in aiming for a time when you do a race for the 2nd time, so I set myself a 26 hour target. Thinking that I could achieve this if I had a good day.

My good friend Mark was with me again to enjoy the race in a very helpful support roll. He would never leave Coniston, but just knowing he was there would be a help, especially when tired at the end. So he wished me luck and I lined up with 263 runners ready for the start.I found my other friend Bill and set off with him. It was great to get going after the long build up. I immediately lost Bill on the first climb and couldn't see him ahead. I would not see him again, I just hoped he was behind me, as he is prone to going off too fast; and it was his first time at a race this long.

I enjoyed the first climb in the evening sun and ideal temperatures I was simply making that I  kept a nice comfortable pace to the first CP. I thought 1 hour 15 would be a good time to arrive in Seathwaite so was pleased to take only 1 minute longer than this. It was my only time check, the rest of the way I planned to run as fast as felt right without fussing about times.

I made a very quick stop to top the bottle up and dib then I was off on the very boggy section to Boot. I enjoyed this section the least, it was very boggy and I even went in bog up to my knees at one point, muddying my hands in the process. I also followed a pair in front too low on the contour around to Doctors bridge and had to backtrack, I was also the gate opener for a canny few behind me for most of the way. 

So I was glad to arrive in Boot for a quick stop, do the usual process of dibbing, filling the water bottle, grabbing a bit of cake or other food item then shooting off. I left behind my gatekeeper followers and from this point was on my own for a long time, only passing a runner on the climb over to Burnmore tarn. The decent down to Wasdale was a bit easier as the track has been smoothed out, so this was a positive change. The other positive was the new road section past the campsite, avoiding the potentially flooded beck, I like the odd bit of road to get a rhythm going. Soon enough I made Wasdale CP, saying hello to Gene who was awaiting Bills arrival. This is when I discovered that Bill was in fact behind me. I wasn't to know until a lot later but Bill retired here mainly due to an ITB strain.

I decided on an extra to the usual routine here, which was that I sat down for a short breather. But I made it short and got on my way to head for the long climb up to Black Sail. On the ascent I passed 3 guys all going together, I never struck up a conversations I was keen to avoid part of what slowed me last time around. So I pressed on and crested the Coll in good daylight. One of my targets was to descend to the bottom of the valley in daylight, as it would make the rough descent easier. So all alone I reached the bottom and pressed on to hope to make the top of Scarth gap in fading daylight. My optimistic aim before the race was to descend from Scarth gap in daylight. Well I sort of did. It wasn't exactly daylight but it was usable light. Last time I put my headtorch on, on Black sail pass. This time I put it on as I reach Buttermere shore. My only other measure of how I was doing was when i took it off. I was enjoying the lonely run in the dark beside the lake. Then out of the trees a bat missed me by what felt like 6 inches. It certainly woke me up.

I arrived at Buttermere CP in good spirits had a quick chat with the guy at the CP then took off for the climb up to Sail pass. I was enjoying being alone until on the section through the woods my right foot slipped straight down and I was the grasping at the ground to arrest what would have been a 20 foot sheer drop onto a rocky beck. A wake up call, more care was needed. I made a good climb up to Sail pass and descended well until I used the first path to Barrowdoor, I realised, too late, that I had left the wide path too early, but pressed on across the open tussocks to then descend 60 feet back onto the track. I think I wasted about 5 or 6 minutes but it was no disaster. When descending to Braithwaite I noticed a runner ahead unfortunately he was going too slow to guide me to the CP which I wasn't 100% sure about. So I arrived in Braithwaite and doddered about a bit backwards and forwards before finally finding the CP.

A quick bowl of pasta and I was off again. This time road running beside the A66, I got into a good rhythm and ran all the way until Spoony lane.I walked most of the ascent. Then i ran the section into the out and back valley. A new unmanned dibber CP had been placed on what was described as the point where you make the right turn to head for Blancathra centre. So on approach I met a runner for the first time in ages. I said it was further being confident of the CPs flashing beacon as a guide. But it was down to our left. Luckily Kevin spotted it and we made for it. We then ran together for most of the rest of the race. Nearing Blencathara centre I felt a massive amount on pain under my big toe. A blister had come from nothing but Christ it was painful until a few minutes later when thankfully it burst, then I could run again. I caught Kevin back up as we entered balloon lined CP.

On leaving Blencathara centre asked Kevin if we could do this next bit together as I was not totally sure of the route to the old railway line. He was o.k. with it. So I tracked him through and we had a chat whilst running down to the old railway line. We went slightly wrong after the A66 underpass me thinking left (correct for once) Kevin right (wrong) but we sorted it out fairly quickly. On the next climb to the Old Coach road I went ahead and would leave Kevin behind for a couple of hours or so. I made good progress to the next CP at Dockray

A quick stop and I was off on the road descent down to the beautiful track around Gawbarrow. Just after starting the track I caught up with the headtorch ahead. It was Grancho and we would run together to Dalemain CP. He had set off too fast and had suffered for the last 2 hours. It can be a tough time through the dark hours and I think I appeared at the right time to get him back on track mentally as much as anything. On the last bit of ascent of the contour of Gowbarrow we took our head torches off. This was a marked improvement on  last time when I took it off on meeting the Old coach road. So I now knew I was doing well. At times I struggled to keep up with a rejuvenated Grancho, but I did all the way to Dalemain CP.

At Dalemain I had to spend a rather long 24 minutes sorting my feet out and eating. By the time I left Grancho had left and he would only be seen as an ever distant object in the next 2 stages. Kevin took a shorter break than me and so we left together. It was now 06.30 and it started to drizzle. Although it drizzled a bit during the night I managed to avoid donning my jacket until now. Later in the day it would be on and off about 6 times with sunshine and showers teasing us. Kevin went ahead then I caught him on the climb out of Pooley bridge. I went past him then during a toilet break he went past me.

After the Howtown CP, on the long climb to high cop I had my first bad patch. Kevin pulled away, but I was lucky that another runner near the top was struggling more than me, so psychologically this helped. I went past and decided to temper my pace all the way to Mardale head, to get over the blip.

Kevin left the CP as I arrived. A quick stop at Mardale CP and I was off to test if my blip was over. I decided that if I could climb Gatesgarth well, I would be o.k for the rest of the day. I did but the weather became a bit windy and wet on and off from now, still it wasn't too bad, better than heat all day. I caught Kevin on the climb up and over to Kentmere, where we arrived soaked and cold after a heavy shower. It was always nice to get the personal treatment at these empty CPs but this made it tempting to stay too long. So we got up and left for the last long climb up to Garburn pass.

The rest of the route to Ambleside was good and Kevin and I were pretty much side by side now until the last descent into Coniston, more of that later. Ambleside CP was nice and calm and after a quick chat with the marshals we were off. On the final bit of climb contouring Loughrig, top local runner Ben Abdelnoor informed us that Terry Conway had already won in19 hrs 51. We were amazed what an incredible effort and a great new record that will take some beating no matter who has a go at it! 

As we rounded Elterwater I would find my friend Bill with a camera ready to take photos, I was glad and sad to see him, glad to see a friendly face, but sad to discover he had to pull out at Wasdale. He ran with us for a while before we continued to get the job done. The rest of the route went well and we just tried to keep a decent pace going. I knew I was not running as fluid or fast as I did to Dalemain, a combination of blistered feet and tight calf muscles made sure of that.

But we did egg each other on to make sure we held a pace that no one could catch us up at. But we were being caught by Scott Bradley. At the last CP at Tilberthwaite he was 7 minutes behind. We didn't know he was catching us,  but it didn't matter as this is a strong leg for me, and for Kevin too as it turned out. He power climbed all the way, in hindsight I think he was trying to get drop me. At this time whilst following 20 meters back I was thinking of asking if he wanted to dib together for joint 7th. Ironically I never quite closed the gap enough to ask him. But this pace meant that Scott had little chance of catching us so never mind.

After the rough last bit of descending on the route I caught up with Kevin and he did look surprised that I was still with him. He continued down past his family and onto the cinder path, then he kicked before I could ask the question, I think I know the answer now anyway. He flew away and although I ran fairly quick my stiff calves would not permit me to chase. I let him go happy with 8th. Then as I got onto the road Bill informed me that Scott was only 7 minutes behind at the last CP. So I made a last, and as it turned out unnecessary, dash for the line. It was great to finish and the time was a really pleasing 25 hours 11mins. Scott was 11 minutes slower on the last leg, so lost ground on that leg, but it was better to air on the side of caution as Scott is a class runner. He finished 18 minutes later. To put my time, and the quality of the field into perspective, my time of 25 h 11 m would have been good enough for 2nd place in 2010!

Mark helped with my kit, and it was good to see his parents Ken and Angela, as well as Bill and Gene at the finish line, it made it feel really special. It was good not to need the head-torch on the last descent as well, as i had had to last time. After half an hour I started feeling a bit rough so ended up on the floor with my feet on a chair for 15 minutes. But it definitely helped. After this it was just the usual issues of blistered feet and stiff legs. All together though it was a pleasing race, but I still feel I can do better if I can prevent blisters and look after my calves. I may have to have another go next year to find out.

top left : Terry Conway   top right : Grancho   Bottom left : Kevin Perry  bottom right : Me

Old Counties Tops Race

After a long hiatus from doing anything interesting I finally have something worthy of putting on this Blog. I do have an excuse for this total lack of adventure though….

At the end of last year I entered and was preparing for the Tour of Helvelyn race. Unfortunately in the lead up to this race last December I got ill with some sort of virus that refused to relinquish its grip on me until early February. Needless to say I had to give up on the Tour of Helvelyn, and any sort of running as well for about 2 months. During this time I became very unfit, and ever since I have been battling back to some sort of endurance fitness. In recent months I have been recceing the Old Counties tops, to not only to learn the route, but to get fit for the race. My final preparation’s the Friday before the race weren’t ideal but my partners (the OCT race is run in pairs), Bill’s was far worse.
To explain; Bill had decided to help out on a BG on the Friday before the race. A crazy idea but I was well aware of it and semi roped in too. To cut a long story short. I drove most of the day; Bill met Paul Tierney and guided him over the Wasdale to Honister section. I joined them at Beck head and ran to Honister with them. Then we drove to Keswick to see him finish in a superb time of 17h 59 mins.

So on Saturday I, mildly jaded, lined up with a fairly fatigued Bill Williamson to have a go at this classic long fell race. It is 38 miles and 10,000 feet and visits each of the Old Counties summits, which are Helvelyn– Cumberland, Sca Fell Pike Westmorland and The Old Man of Coniston –Lancashire. It was a dank drizzly cold morning so waterproof top, hat and gloves were donned ready for the start. After a short briefing we were off and heading for the short up and over into Grasmere. Bill and I were too near the back and ended up queuing at the stiles. Never mind it kept us sensible after the previous days exploits. Despite a head wind we made good progress up the valley to the start of the steep ascent of Dollywagon. We decided on a direct line up the fence posts to get on the good running track sooner. The only issue with this is it makes the ascent very steep and probably the toughest on the entire route. Half way up Bill started to regret the BG support the previous day, and slowed a little. At the top we made good progress along to Helvelyn summit, which surprisingly had a light dusting of wet snow on it. We then set off following other runners on a low line which led us into a forest, neither of us new this route and we lost time fighting our way through. We both decided not to do it again next year; yes we had already committed to a more serious effort next year.
A quick stop at the car park then we headed up Wythburn. I warned Bill it was a tough valley, and so it proved to be. More sodden than my reccies, so it was even boggier than I was used to. I was going to use a higher line on the right, which is further around but on better ground. But as I headed for it I noticed everyone else was going directly across the bog. So I ended up in no man’s land and continued directly to the col of Green up Edge. So our line was 100 meters to the right of everyone else but still in the bog. After a while Bill shouted “are you doing this on purpose”. There isn’t a magic path across there it is all boggy. Honestly Bill. By the top of Green up edge I caught Yiannis up and had a quick chat whilst we both waited for our respective partners. We would then play cat and mouse with Yiannis and his co-runner for the next hour or so.
During the contour around High Raise Bill let out a shriek. He had twisted his knee and was on the ground. I along with other passing runners asked if he was o.k. He wasn’t sure but after a few minutes began to run again. Luckily it was just a nasty twist and no serious damage was done. We then made good steady progress to Angle Tarn, all the time keeping the pace to within Bills comfort zone. Despite our issues with pace and knee twists we were still 36 minutes inside the 5 hour cut of at Angle tarn.
A quick fill up of the water bottles at the checkpoint and we headed for Sca Fell Pike. Bill showed me some nice ascent line out to the right cutting out the large boulders and we had a good ascent onto a blustery Sca Fell Pike summit. A 90 degree turn to the left and we headed down the steep south face of Sca Fell Pike, then along the lengthy Moasdale valley towards cockley beck CP. On our reccie we went wrong here, but with distant figures to line up with we made fine progress to Cockley Beck CP. I had taken on the role of a sort of support, I was filling bottles up for us both and letting Bill carry on, as I knew I could catch him up with relative ease. A quick count of food left told us we had 3 jels left between us. So we vowed to have a good feed at this checkpoint ready for the final push. However compared to the small but often rule I had followed during the race, three quarters of a large tuna sandwich proved too much for me.
On the ascent up to the col between Great carrs and Grey Friar I started to feel a little stomach ache, and not long after I started to struggle. I had led all the way up but now I was struggling to keep up with Bill. On the final steep part I said “Bill 2 minutes”. I think he was surprised, and maybe glad that finally I was sharing some of the suffering. After 40 seconds I decided to get up and push to the top. I knew once my legs got moving again I would be o.k. And I was, Bill led the traverse of Swirl How at a strong pace and we made good progress onto The Old Man of Coniston. By now the sun was out and it was getting quite warm. We descended to 3 shires catching up with 2 women that had been with us on several occasions during the race. But after the last CP at three shires stone we lost them again, as Bill slowed on the steep downhill road. As we cut off the road Bill over took me at great speed, and from ambling along I was now working hard along the track to Blea Tarn. We later realised that we have very different strengths, rocky runnable tracks is one of Bills, not mine.
On the descent from Blea tarn we were now in sight of the 2 ladies again and decided to try and chase them down. Just at this moment I slipped and slid into a rock, hitting it with my knee square on and hard. It hurt a lot and I let out a screech. Bill heard this and stopped asking if I was o.k. It hurt so much that I couldn’t talk at first. Finally the initial pain subsided and after about a minute I finally started hobbling again then running whilst explaining my mistake to Bill. Like a footballer running off a knock we continued to the finish cheered on by Andy W and Gill. We had finished In a better than expected time of 9 hours 20 mins, mainly thanks to Bills rallying effort.
It felt good to finish. I felt a bit queasy so missed out on an amazing spread of sandwiches, Cakes and soups. Bill made up for it though by asking me to carry some of his food to the car. We nearly forgot the t-shirt but got one before leaving for Baysbrown campsite. A meal a few beers and a chat with Andy W and Gill rounded off a great couple of days.